Cardinal Adds to Islam-Violence Debate
By Paul Tait
SYDNEY (Reuters) - The head of Australia's Catholic church said the violent reaction to the Pontiff's comments on Islam in many parts of the Islamic world "justified one of Pope Benedict's main fears".
Cardinal George Pell, the conservative leader of Australia's 5.1 million Roman Catholics, said he was pleased there had been no violence in Australia in reaction to Pope Benedict's use of a mediaeval quotation on Islam and holy war.
But he criticised acts of violence elsewhere.
"The violent reaction in many parts of the Islamic world justified one of Pope Benedict's main fears," Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, said in a statement on Web sites of the Catholic Church of Australia.
"They showed the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence," he said.
Some Australian Muslim leaders said the comments by both Pope Benedict and Pell should be condemned.
Ameer Ali, head of a government-appointed Muslim reference group, told Reuters Pell's comments were "especially unhelpful in a charged atmosphere", while academic Samina Yasmeen said leaders should remember that religion often dealt with raw emotions.
"The fact that Cardinal Pell decided to come into the controversy and add more to that, I think it's a dangerous thing," she told a security conference in Canberra.
A spokesman for Australia's Muslim community challenged Pell to debate Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, head of one of Sydney's biggest mosques.
"Islam has nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of and if Cardinal Pell is up to this challenge he is welcome to this public forum," spokesman Keyser Trad told Australian television.
Muslim anger swelled after Pope Benedict's speech in Germany last week in which he referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything the Prophet brought was evil "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".
The Pope said on Sunday this was not his view and apologised for causing offence, although he stopped short of retracting the speech.
While some Muslims were mollified by his apology, others remain angry.
Al Qaeda militants in Iraq have vowed war on "worshippers of the cross" while Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the remarks "the latest chain of the crusade against Islam started by America's Bush".
Echoing Pope Benedict's explanation, Pell said he favoured dialogue between religions but described the reaction of some Muslim leaders in Australia as "unfortunately typical and unhelpful".
"Our major priority must be to maintain peace and harmony within the Australian community, but no lasting achievements can be grounded in fantasies and evasions," Pell said.
Pell is seen as a strict adherent to Catholic orthodoxy with some influence at the Vatican and was on the Papal conclave that voted for Pope Benedict to succeed Pope John Paul in 2005.
Pell sought dialogue between the West and Islam and said he would like answers about teachings in the Koran and what he said were its links to violence.
"I think we have to have a good look at what the Koran has written on violence, have a good look at the career of the early Muslims and the military expansion that went on for decades and invite some comment from our Islamic friends," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.